Tranquil PC T2-WHS-A3 Harmony Home Server review
Windows Home Server (web ID: 138639) may not have set the mass market alight, but it remains an attractive set-and-forget solution for home backups and shared, remote-accessible storage. Tranquil PC impressed us last summer with its compact VIA C7-based T7-HSA system (web ID: 121499), and now the Manchester-based company has followed up with the more substantial T2-WHS-A3.
At first glance, the A3 looks like an old video recorder, made of sturdy black sheet metal with a perspex plate on the front to add aesthetic interest. It’s bulky by Home Server standards (the T7 was closer in size to a hardback book), and there’s a limit to how easily you can hide it away in your home, as all Home Server systems need a wired connection to a router. On the plus side, its size allows some expandability.
Installing the A3 is as simple as connecting two cables. Although there’s an on/off switch at the front of the case, the system powers up as soon as you connect it to the mains, and once you hook it up to your router it will automatically join your network, so long as you’re using DHCP. There are additional connectors for a keyboard, mouse and monitor, but only die-hard tinkerers need bother: Home Server is designed to be controlled remotely.
To connect your home PCs to your new server, you simply install the connector software and configure your backup, shared folders and remote access settings as required. The manual is nice and clear on how to do this, which is good to see, but from here on in the A3 is functionally indistinguishable from any other vanilla Home Server appliance.
So what is distinctive about the A3? Well, as the manufacturer’s name would suggest, one of its trademark design goals is quietness. Unlike its big-brand competitor, the HP EX475 MediaSmart Server (web ID: 145170), this machine is passively cooled throughout; the only noise is of the hard disk spinning. It’s also appealingly efficient. With a single hard disk, the system idles at just 32W, compared with the HP’s 60W. That translates to a saving of around 245kWh per year, or roughly £25 off your annual electricity bill. What’s more, when you buy one, Tranquil PC pledges to offset its carbon footprint for the next five years.
The A3 is also cheap, costing just £299 for the basic model. It’s built around an Intel D201GLY2 motherboard with a 1.2GHz Celeron 220 processor, 512MB of RAM and a single 500GB hard disk, of which 354GB is usable out of the box. There’s no option to upgrade the processor, which makes sense; you could stick a Core 2 Quad in here and you wouldn’t see any difference. You can move up to a 1GB model for a £12 supplement, but the basic 512MB is ample, and you’ll see minimal benefit from adding more. The motherboard’s single DIMM slot confirms you’re not expected to add RAM after purchase.
When it comes to hard disks, the situation is a lot less clear cut. The A3’s comparatively large case lets you mount two internal hard disks, and a second 500GB drive can be preinstalled for an extra £74. Having two drives enables the system to automatically mirror your data across multiple drives, increasing data security and peace of mind.
But Home Server doesn’t insist on all drives being the same size, and the A3 allows easy internal access. It might make more sense to buy the single drive version and put your own smaller drive in the second mounting – by the time you fill it up, larger drives will certainly have fallen in price. It’s always worth considering external drives as well.